The most recent estimates from the US Geological Survey show that Mexico was the top silver-producing country in 2019.
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Knowing the top silver-producing countries can help investors understand the logic behind the exploration and development decisions that companies make. For example, high silver production in a particular country might indicate mining-friendly laws or high-grade deposits.
In 2019, Mexico was once again the world’s leading silver-producing country, and world silver production increased marginally to 27,000 metric tons (MT) due to an increase in output there and in other countries. Below is an overview of Mexico and the other top silver-producing nations. Silver production stats are based on the latest data from the US Geological Survey.
Mine production: 6,300 MT
Mexico continues to rank as the world’s largest pure silver producer, with its output in 2019 increasing by 200 MT over the previous year. The country is home to Fresnillo (LSE:FRES,OTC Pink:FNLPF), the largest silver company in the world. Fresnillo set records in 2018, when its output rose 5.3 percent from 2017.
Despite issues stemming from events such as strikes and government involvement, the mining industry in Mexico is expected to grow 3.3 percent per year and be valued at US$17.8 billion by 2020.
Mine production: 3,800 MT
Second on this top silver-producing countries list is Peru, which fed 2019 silver supply by putting out 3,800 MT, down from 4,300 MT in 2018. Peru features the world’s largest-known silver reserves, with an impressive 120,000 known MT of silver. The country has a massive amount of untapped silver potential that could allow it to move up the rankings in the future.
Most of Peru’s physical silver production comes from the Antamina mine, a joint venture between BHP (ASX:BHP,NYSE:BHP,LSE:BHP), Glencore (LSE:GLEN,OTC Pink:GLCNF), Teck Resources (TSX:TECK.B,NYSE:TECK) and Mitsubishi (OTC Pink:MSBHF,TSE:8058). It produces more silver bullion than any other mine in the country, but is primarily a copper mine with silver produced as a by-product.
Fortuna Silver Mines (TSX:FVI,NYSE:FSM) is rapidly growing its silver production with two operating mines on the market, one of which is in Peru. That mine produced 0.9 million ounces of silver in 2019.
Mine production: 3,600 MT
China ranked third in silver production in 2019. The Silver Institute attributes a large part of China’s rise within the bullion market in recent years to the country’s development of its mining industry — as of 2012, nearly 95 percent of Chinese silver production came as a by-product of other metals.
Many companies in China are privately owned, but Silvercorp Metals (TSX:SVM,NYSEAMERICAN:SVM) bills itself as the country’s largest primary silver producer. It has a portfolio of producing silver-lead–zinc mines in China, including the multi-mine Ying District and the GC mine.
Mine production: 2,100 MT
Russia’s silver output increased by 900 MT in 2019, surpassing both Poland and Chile. Its silver reserves stand at 45,000 MT, and its largest silver producer is Polymetal International (LSE:POLY). Polymetal dominates silver production in Russia and operates four of the top five silver mines in the country.
Additionally, Silver Bear Resources (TSX:SBR) produced the first silver at its Mangazeisky project in Russia in 2018. Mangazeisky covers an area of about 570 square kilometers and includes the high-grade Vertikalny deposit, which the company says is “amongst the highest-grade silver deposits in the world.”
Mine production: 1,700 MT
Poland, another of the top silver-producing countries, saw its 2019 silver production grow by 400 MT compared to the previous year. Despite the big upswing in production, the country was still upstaged by Russia, which pushed Poland out of the fourth place spot it held in 2018.
Poland-based KGHM Polska Miedsz (WSE:KGH) is consistently one of the world’s top silver-producing companies, according to the Silver Institute, and the company could expand to become larger. Poland has the world’s second largest silver reserves (100,000 MT) after Peru.
Mine production: 1,400 MT
Mines in Australia churned out 1,400 MT of silver in 2019, up 200 MT from what they produced the previous year. That increase moved the country up to the sixth position, beating out Chile. Silver mining has a rich history in Australia, and BHP began there as a silver operation in the 1920s.
Today, South32 (ASX:S32,OTC Pink:SHTLF) runs the Cannington mine in Queensland, which produces more silver than any other in the country. The company claims to produce 6 percent of the world’s silver.
Mine production: 1,300 MT
Chile produced the same amount of silver in 2019 as it did the year prior. Some believe that the country is still recovering from a 2017 labor strike at BHP’s Escondida mine.
The country’s minerals ministry, known as COCHILCO, has also suggested that the fall was partially due to a sheer lack of silver found as a by-product of gold. This news came despite the fact that the country’s reserves are an estimated 26,000 MT. Chile is still working to get out from under the hits it took in 2017, but it has been making progress.
Mine production: 1,200 MT
Bolivia, the eighth largest of the silver-producing countries, had 2019 output that was on par with the previous year. There is room for its silver industry to expand with reported reserves of 22,000 MT.
Bolivia is home to several silver mines, particularly in its Potosi region. The San Cristobal mine, operated by Sumitomo (OTC Pink:SSUMF,TSE:8053), features the third largest silver reserves of any mine. In addition, Pan American Silver (TSX:PAAS,NASDAQ:PAAS) operates an underground silver-zinc mine in Bolivia called San Vicente.
Bolivia been in the spotlight on and off for the past several years for having children work in silver mines. But as Cesar Navarro, minister of mining and metallurgy, says in this video, the government is not monitoring mining activities and therefore has “no control” over these labor issues.
Mine production 1,200 MT
Argentina replaced Kazakhstan on the list of major silver producers in 2018, and in 2019 tied with Bolivia as the ninth largest silver producer in the world. At 1,200 MT, its output is just marginally below the major players; according to the US Geological Survey, silver reserves in Argentina are unknown.
In mid-2018, Yamana Gold (TSX:YRI,NYSE:AUY) began commercial production at Cerro Moro, a high-grade gold and silver mine in the country. Argentina is also home to the Chinchillas and Pirquitas mines, run by a joint venture between SSR Mining (TSX:SSRM,NASDAQ:SSRM) and Golden Arrow Resources (TSXV:GRG,OTCQB:GARWF).
10. United States
Mine production 980 MT
In 2019, the US produced 980 MT of silver, up from the previous year’s 900 MT, but still down from the 1,030 MT the country produced in 2017. Metal was produced at four silver mines and as a by-product at 33 base and precious metals mines. The country’s silver reserves stand at 25,000 MT.
The largest US-based primary silver producer is Coeur Mining (NYSE:CDE). Coeur’s US projects are not silver focused, but the company does operate silver mines in South America and Australia.
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Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.